While the personal is almost always political, sometimes the person affected takes action that changes the course of history. That’s what Kate Ekanem has done. The founder of Kate Tales Foundation has spent her entire adult life promoting education, literacy, and empowerment of girls in her home country of Nigeria. And it started with herself.
“I was born into a family stuck with intense adversity, and a rural community with no access to quality education, basic health facility, reliable or no Internet facility, or social and educational opportunities,” Ekanem said. “There was no public library, no clean water, poor power supply, and streets filled with littered debris. Girls were resolving to getting pregnant [by] older men to escape the sting of poverty they were born into.”
After losing her mother at the age of two, Ekanem struggled as the only girl in a family of half-brothers. Her education took a backseat to the boys—something that she never fully accepted.
“I know what it feels like to rise in the morning and have nothing to eat. I know what it feels like to have an unending burning question, but dare not ask, because girls were not supposed to talk when the other gender were talking,” she said. “I understand that feeling of heavy humiliation that comes with being sent home from school because your parent cannot afford the school tuition.”
To Kate, girls have just as much right to be educated as boys. Without that education, financial instability amid women in the country is surging.
“I know the feeling of depression that comes with having the desire to read books but there is no public library or reading center in your community. I understand the frustration that arises when as a teen, you are studying for exam and power supply goes off on you in the dark of the night. I have lived in darkness. I have felt hunger. I have been immensely depressed, and I know, I understand what it means to be a girl, before a woman, in a rural community.”
Kate Tales counteracts that by making sure rural communities have access to education through scholarships and mentorship programs. Since the beginning of the program in 2012, Ekanem has empowered thousands Nigerian girls and women with entrepreneurial skills and confidence through 20 different projects.
“After one year of planning and working alone, I started receiving local official invitations to speak in high schools, and conferences. It was my first achievement and a sign that I was on the right path,” she said. “ I started receiving volunteer requests from people who wanted to join my pursuit to liberate girls and women and create a conscious mind in the rural communities.”
The organization has multiple goals including leadership and entrepreneur roles and literary and artistic development for women. These are achieved through workshops and books donations in schools, author talks and symposiums, exhibitions where women artists can share and sell their artwork. All of this is in addition to scholarships available for less privileged high school students in Nigeria.
Ekanem owes much of her motivational debt to a woman who spent 29 years in the FBI after being told at 11 years old that women couldn’t work there because “girls spend too much time painting their nails.”
She met her mentor, Lauren Anderson, at a summit in Turkey, where Ekanem was chosen to represent the African Union, and Anderson was a speaker on Barriers Women Face.
“Lauren is a goal getter,” Ekanem said. “She’s the kind of woman every girl aspires to become, and she’s an example why girls should never give up on their dreams.”
Anderson worked with several international and domestic non-profit organizations, focusing on emerging youth and women leaders. She worked with Vital Voices Global Partnership and serves on the U. S. Comptroller General’s Advisory Board at the U.S. Government Accountability Office, amid many other tasks. Ekanem feels blessed to have been taken under her wing.
“Lauren’s story and her achievement inspire me immensely,” Ekanem said. “Her achievement is the reason why I keep moving, and consistently reminding myself daily, ‘Kate, there are more goals to smash. Lauren did. You can.’”
And smash them she will.
After working nonstop for Kate Tales for the past four years, Ekanem decided to go back to school, and is currently enrolled at Muhlenberg College, where she navigates between classes, assignments, meetings, deadlines, project creations, and continues to run her organization, checking up on her teams, and media projects, daily.
“My breakthrough from adversity was not magical. It’s more of divine intervention, and a strong determination to break the cycle of poverty,” she said. “You are more than what they tell you. Go ahead, smash those goals.”